중앙데일리

Hi. When were you born?

Korean social system is built around age

Aug 31,2003
The following is a tip on traditional Korean language and customs in response to a query from a Ms. Trung, who wrote to us from Seoul:

Q. Ms. Trung:
One of the very first questions local Koreans ask when encountering new people is what year they were born. Over a recent dinner get-together, I discovered how persistent, and even obsessed, they can be with age.

While gossiping, someone brought up a middle-aged Korean artist I’ve known for years since the time I was living in France. All Koreans, including a Korean woman who spent many years abroad, were upset because the artist had never revealed her real age, and they couldn’t check because she didn’t go to a Korean school. A couple of them even called her “a fraud”!

I was shocked and hurt for my Korean friend, for I don’t think she has any idea that her own people in her home country are wrongfully accusing her.

Who cares about age? None of my friends make a habit of counting everyone’s age. Should I warn all of my friends in Korea of what Korean natives are saying about their “unclear” age?

A. IHT-JAD:
You should, so at least your good-hearted friends know what to expect from Koreans. Age is quite a serious issue in this society. Typical Koreans believe that age not only defines one’s social order and behavior, but also dictates personal and professional relations. For example, they can determine how to address each other, as a younger person must be sure to express respect to an older person. Koreans simply won’t relax until they’ve figured out everyone’s real date of birth.


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